Windy Weather Challenges Competitors During the Grand Prix Special

Today the Grand Prix Special, the second of three phases determining the 2004 individual Olympic medals in dressage, was completed at the Markopoulo Equestrian Center in Athens. The wind was blowing, as it did the second day of dressage in the Eventing competition last week, causing the line of international flags crowning the top of the impressive dressage arena to snap and flap distracting some horses from their task at hand.

But the wind and flags didn’t seem to bother Debbie McDonald of Hailey, Idaho, and her mare Brentina, or team captain and six-time Olympian Robert Dover of Lebanon, New Jersey, and his unflappable mount FBW Kennedy. McDonald ended the day in fourth with a composite score of 74.067 and Dover in sixth with 72.833. Germany’s Ulla Salzberger on Rusty leads with 76.524; Anky van Grunsven of The Netherlands is second with 76.004 and Beatriz Ferrer-Salat of Spain is third with 75.213. It’s a close race and it will be decided beginning at 3:30 Wednesday afternoon in the Grand Prix Freestyle competition when the riders perform their own choreographed program to the music of their choice.

First out of Dover’s mouth after his ride was a smile and a single comment, “It was fun to ride!” With only about 10 minutes of warm-up work, he couldn’t stress enough the confidence he has found in Kennedy. “He’s that wonderful of an animal. Many of these riders have been partners with these horses for many years,” he said. “[With Kennedy] Every time it has been a little new, but I just loved it.” Robert has been riding Kennedy in competitions for less than a year.

Except for a bit of an over-collection on the second pirouette, causing a slight loss of balance, Dover could not have been happier, or more enthused, after the ride. Without the small problem, he felt secure in saying he could have had a mark of 75.000%. But without regret, he said, “I’m very, very happy…. By the time I finished at ‘G,’ I was so happy with my performance. It would not have mattered what they [the judges] did.”

An excited and satisfied McDonald said, “She [Brentina] is not one of the big movers like some of the other horses, but we try to sell what we do.” She certainly did that in front of a crowded stadium – one anticipating McDonald’s ride in the final day’s Freestyle. “If I can stay in the hunt, that’s what I care about.” Just over 1.2 points out of the medal standings at this point, McDonald cheerfully said, “It’s not over until it’s over, and I’m not going to go down without a fight.”

Whereas the winds disturbed other horses, McDonald said that they actually fueled Brentina’s fire today, cooling the atmosphere. “I was very excited about it. We’ll have to wait and see what happens as we go very late on Wednesday. We’ll have to see. Definitely the heat takes a little out of both of us, so we’ll just have to grin and bear it and say this is the last one [competition] for a long time. Let’s put it together!”

The most disappointed competitors of the day must be the Spanish. They seemed to have left it all on the playing field this past weekend in the team competition. After their spectacular silver medal team performance, two of their three riders had uneven performances today, perhaps affected by the wind. Their scores reflected their problems, but Beatrix Ferrer Salat maintained her third place, with mcDonald a close fourth.

The scores of all three phases, Grand Prix, Grand Prix Special and Grand Prix Freestyle carry equal weight and are combined for a final composite score.

Source - "On the Scene" at the 2004 Olympic Games